Business Reaches a Turning Point

“What’s driving a lot of the change now is millennials,” Mr. Fink said, expanding on the letter. “They are asking more of their companies.”

He said he believed that we were at an inflection point.

“I do believe that the demand for E.S.G. is going to transform all investing,” Mr. Fink said, referring to how investors are beginning to meaningfully evaluate companies based, in part, on environmental, social and governance metrics.

“That may be one or five years away from now, but it’s not that far away.”

Responding to a critique that his words are just public relations and that business shouldn’t get involved with issues beyond the bottom line, Mr. Fink said, “I’m not a nanny.” He added: “I’m not telling companies what their purpose should be. But I do believe it’s up to the company to identify what their purpose is.”

Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google, said that although he started as an engineer, the way he spends his day has changed; increasingly, he devotes much of his time to thinking about how “technology impacts society at scale.”

He said part of his job description had turned into “technologist-policy-maker-diplomat.”

Indeed, companies like Google are at the center of the debate, facing questions about their size and their impact on issues like privacy but also whether they support working with the United States government on sensitive projects like artificial intelligence for the Defense Department — a project Google chose to end, in part, because of a backlash from its employees. That outcome bolstered Mr. Fink’s analysis that employees have become remarkably powerful inside some of these companies, especially as the job market continues to tighten.

Mr. Pichai said he didn’t run the company “by referendum,” but the day we spoke he was grappling with the fallout from a walkout by Google employees around the world over accusations of sexual harassment in the workplace, which some employees argued was prevalent in the company’s culture.

At most companies, such a walkout would be unthinkable. Mr. Pichai said he welcomed it. And while he said the debate was painful for the company, there is something unique even about the shift in business culture that would allow for such a widespread outcry.

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